American Soccer Analysis Crowd Sourcing Results

To all of you that expected this on Friday, I’m sorry. We (collectively) hit publish on the Portland Timbers and then went directly into Opening Weekend vaca mode. Matthias left on a jetplane and, as coincidence would have it, so did I. We both unplugged and got as far away from a computer as one could in the greater Northwest area. With that we kind of forgot to set-up something that would go into the specifics of our Crowd Sourcing project that we had previously promised would be out on Friday. My apologies for that as we want to make sure you all have the access to these numbers that we gather. That’s really our primary goal for everything that we do.

Below is a screenshot of the data as we have it on the website. It’s just a small clip of everything and later I’ll upload the actual excel spreadsheet from SurveyMonkey so that others can play with the data and get a better way to look around the data if that’s what they plan on doing.

Eastern Conference

Western Conference*For the team previews, we just used a denominator of 404, even though there were (somehow?) a different numbers of votes for teams within the same conference.

 

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American Soccer Analysis Prediction Contest — Update

Hello people of the American Soccer Analysis-verse (sorry, I watched Cosmos earlier). Here are the standings after the first two days of the ASA Prediction Contest. TimberTyler leads a tightly contested pack as the only entrant to predict 6 of the first games correctly. Sixteen people are within one correct answer of him, and with two matches left to be played this week, and ten next week, it’s still all to play for.

Twitter
handle
Score
TimberTyler 6
@GorillaMadhouse 5
ImTonay 5
bjensen41 5
lucas_hammer 5
@TheBarcaShow 5
@DustinWard3 5
Jrthewriter 5
@root4rctid 5
mattfromseattle 5
spartwin 5
Kylescoble 5
omnimechcentral 5
Blanewalberg 5
cpnAhab 5
hbleff 5
_ramosc 5
@NafuUncafCfu 4
danny3stacks 4
@ryanmyerspdx 4
@mat_gamble 4
@atleeMT 4
@MLSAtheist 4
shawnvb 4
@pjmuzi 4
ledfloyd13 4
@ilungamwepu 4
@libero_or_death 4
@deadhamlet44 4
Mattyanselmo 4
TheGreatJeensby 4
quakesfan84 4
RabonaQuimby 3
@ricardodiazurea 3
@realryanthomas 3
@paulie4star 3
@PMacD82 3
@ccasper1986 3
ahanson1980 3
EvanKerns 3
@evandahlquist 3
mgiunta1217 3
@southstandpants 3
timofree94 3
amresendez 3
@soccamaniac 3
spidermccoy 3
Smutty2400 3
@drewjolsen 3
Markrwill 3
@dr2le 3
@JweavKC 3
emily_knutsen 3
fusionmutiny 3
ChanceEncounter 3
DKashima 3
@skrillscrapes 3
dial_hoang 2
@jakenuting 2
unitedmania 2
Z_Rich2 2
nickk330 2
buzzcoleman 2
TheAaronKlauss 1
el_jaybird 0
@mattkacik 0

Below is the breakdown of votes. On average, entrants picked 4 of the 8 games correctly. The prediction people were most sure of, the Chicago Fire defeating or tying Chivas USA, went horribly wrong as the Magee-less Fire couldn’t get a result in Carson.

What will be the result of the Seattle Sounders – Sporting Kansas City game?

Seattle Sounders win

 

27%

Sporting Kansas City win or tie

  

73%

What will be the result of the DC United – Columbus Crew game?

DC United win

 

47%

Columbus Crew win or tie

  

53%

What will be the result of the Vancouver Whitecaps – New York Red Bulls game?

Vancouver Whitecaps win

 

27%

New York Red Bulls win or tie

  

73%

What will be the result of the Houston Dynamo – New England Revolution game?

Houston Dynamo win

 

56%

New England Revolution win or tie

  

44%

What will be the result of the FC Dallas – Montreal game?

FC Dallas win by 2 or more goals

 

18%

Montreal Impact win, tie, or lose by 1

  

82%

What will be the result of the Los Angeles Galaxy – Real Salt Lake game?

Los Angeles Galaxy win

 

62%

Real Salt Lake win or tie

   

38%

What will be the result of the Portland Timbers- Philadelphia Union game?

Portland Timbers win by 2 or more goals

 

44%

Philadelphia Union win, tie, or lose by 1

  

56%

What will be the result of the Chivas USA – Chicago Fire game?

Chivas USA win

 

15%

Chicago Fire win or tie

  

85%

Season Preview: Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City has been a lot of things in its 18-year existence. It’s been good and bad, in the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, and it’s been the Wizards and the “Wiz.” However a transformation occurred more recently that began with the hiring of coach and former player, Peter Vermes, and then the ensuing rebranding of the club. Below you can see the significant boost in attendance that came with a new name and a new park in 2011:

Season Regular Playoffs
2007 11,586 12,442
2008 10,686 10,385
2009 10,053 DNQ
2010 10,287 DNQ
2011 17,810 19,702
2012 19,364 20,894
2013 19,709 20,777

This change culminated in a rapidly expanding fan base that is just as fervent and rabid as any in MLS, anchored by The Cauldron. The club has seen a lot of success in the past two seasons with a US Open Cup win in 2012 and last season’s MLS Cup win at Sporting Park. Things are looking up for Sporting, and this year should yield more of that same success for the defending MLS Cup Champions.

2013 Starting XI

Sporting KC's best XI in 2013

Roster churn: Sporting KC returns 87.7% of its minutes played in 2013 (1st in the East, 2nd in MLS)

Transactions

 Player Added Position From Player Lost Position To
Sal Zizzo M POR Jimmy Nielsen GK Retirement
Andy Gruenebaum GK CLB Kyle Miller D Waived
Brendan Ruiz D Waived

2014 Preview

Median age: 25.5 *Designated player

Median age: 25.5
*Designated player

SKCINFOMajor League Soccer has seen teams rise and fall from season to season as quickly as in any other sport.  A year ago at this time, most of us thought that the San Jose Earthquakes were a favorite in the West, coming off a 72-goal, 66-point performance in 2012’s regular season. We also probably thought the Portland Timbers would be lucky to slip into the Wildcard play-in game. Previous point totals and playoff results, obviously, must be taken with a grain of salt.

While winning the MLS Cup was likely one of the most important moments in many of Sporting players’ lives, it’s not nearly as important as shot data for predicting future success—and SKC limited scoring opportunities better than anyone in the league. Sporting also came in second to the Galaxy in the run for the coveted Golden TI-89 Trophy—given for best expected goal differential in MLS last season—and it returns players that made up 87.7 percent of the team’s total minutes played last season, good for second in MLS behind Real Salt Lake’s 90.5 percent.

It should be no surprise that teams which finish a season well do little to rock the boat for the coming season. But expected goal differential suggests that Sporting is justified in keeping its unit together (+18.3 xGD), while RSL’s success with its current squadron may not be as sustainable (-4.1 xGD).

While Sporting is losing 12.3 percent of its 2013 playing time, the loss of Jimmy Nielsen to retirement makes up most of that (9.1 percent of the team’s total minutes). Considering that our goalkeeper ratings here on the site, as well as those by our own Will Reno, didn’t like Nielsen much in 2013, this could actually make Sporting better in 2014. That’s scary.

Andy Gruenebaum probably ought to be the opening day starter between the posts, but if Vermes goes with Eric Kronberg, we can suppose it’s because he’s good, and we can suppose that both keepers are better than Nielsen.

Whether Vermes goes with Gruenebaum or Kronberg, we all know it’s that SKC defense that makes the biggest difference. Led by USMNT centerback Matt Besler, Sporting allowed the fewest goals in MLS (30), and more importantly for their 2014 projections, the fewest shots (8.9/game) and the lowest expected goals against (29.8).

Before we leave the defensive part of the pitch, I would be remiss if I did not mention Besler’s secret weapon. Despite getting paid mostly to stop others from scoring, Besler can become an offensive weapon with his throw in. Across MLS, about 100 shots were taken directly following throw ins, and 14 of those were scored. Sporting represented about one-quarter of the entire league’s offensive production from the throw in, thanks in large part to Besler’s triceps.

Though Sporting’s defense was best in the league, there is room to grow offensively. SKC ranked 5th in MLS in expected goals, but 11th in actual goals. A narrative worth following this season is the relationship between Vermes and his designated player Claudio Bieler. The Argentine/Ecuadorian striker led Sporting with 10 goals in 2013, but he scored only one of those after July 13th. Bieler found himself out of the lineup often as Sporting was making its push for the Supporters’ Shield (for which it finished 2nd behind New York). Vermes justified one such benching simply by saying that it was a “tactical decision.” Bieler may be Sporting’s best goal scorer, but first he has to make the coach happy and actually play. Our Expected Goals 2.0 suggests that Bieler scored 30 percent more goals than an average player would have, given his opportunities. That was good for 16th in MLS among those with at least 50 shots. Kansas City fans could see more goals from its team in 2014 if Bieler can rack up at least 30 starts and maintain last year’s finishing pace.

Another key cog in the offensive machine is Graham Zusi. Though he’s known mostly as a facilitator for others’ shots, Zusi’s six goals in 2013 were a bonus over the 3.7 an average player would be expected to score, given his shot selection. Though the merits of the assists statistic are up for debate, what is not is that Zusi is immensely valuable to Sporting’s possession-based style of play that generates the most efficient shot ratios in the league. And his hair, oh his hair.

While winning the MLS Cup last year is not, by itself, a great predictor of 2014 success for Sporting Kansas City, adding in the fact that their championship was backed by strong predictive statistics means a lot more, and we are likely to see another championship run from Sporting this season. Sporting has few questions to answer, and kicks off 2014 as the favorite in the East. If Bieler settles in for a full season, well, we could see back-to-back MLS Cups in The Blue Hell.

Crowd Sourcing Results

1st place in the Eastern Conference; Sporting Kansas City received 226 of 404 (55.9%) first place votes, and 93.6% of voters felt that Sporting would make the playoffs.

Season Preview: LA Galaxy

There are few clubs in MLS that are affiliated with distinct “eras.” In L.A., you’ve got Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Ruiz, Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane. A team that has finished first in the Western Conference eight times and only missed the playoffs in three of 17 seasons. The Galaxy are the diamonds of MLS, the staple of the league, and the example of sustained success in this country when it comes to soccer. Think Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and so forth. The LA Galaxy have had the success, the names, and the lineage to be known as one of MLS’ first “Superclubs.”*

LAG-XI

Roster Churn: The Galaxy return 73.1% of their 2013 minutes played (5th in the East, 11th in MLS)

2014 Preview

lag-rosterIII’m not going to lie. The 2013 LA Galaxy we’re pretty much boring. Typically one of the top goal scoring clubs, their ability to squash shots before they happen was as important last yearlainfo as the offensive heroics. However, it’s foreseeable that the goals against total should have been low, and will be again in 2014.  Not only did LA limit the shot totals, they also did a heckuva job limiting the positions in which their opponents were firing those shots. The Galaxy finished second behind Sporting Kansas City in expected goals allowed last season.

Unfortunately, for most of the year it was Carlo Cudicini who seemingly made mistake after mistake that led to inopportune goals and limited the point total. Sure, it’s a convenient narrative to put it all on one person, but blaming the Galaxy’s slow starts has merit, and consider the fact that the club played an excess of 48 regular season, post-season, US Open Cup, Champions League and other games during the season (most in MLS). It led to a busy nine months, and very likely thinned the club that already was reduced to bare bones at times.

Fast forward to this off-season; big names have often become synonymous with L.A., as the they have been the team that sets the bar when it comes to spending money and acquiring talent…well  until Tim Leiweke moved to Toronto last summer. Leiweke, who masterminded David Beckham to  the states was the engineer behind Jermain Defoe to Canada this off-season. While Toronto became the big spenders this off-season, L.A. was forced to stand pat with all three of the designated players slots being filled and little available “extra” cash. That may have seemed to bother some people, but not Bruce Arena. Arena took advantage of the off-season to deepen his bench with veterans, raw youth talent  and an unknown from Brazil.

The Backline

Omar Gonzalez, whether you find him overrated or not, is the anchor to this defensive line. Despite the fact that there are still some holes to be filled, especially with the loss of Sean Franklin, the Galaxy took a huge step forward in reinforcing the defense with the discovery of Jaime Penedo last year.

Gonzalez will obviously miss some time with the US National team at the World Cup, so the big questions going forward are whether or not the club can manage the permanent loss of Franklin, and the temporary drop in talent from Gonzalez to whomever else wins that job in roughly the next 88 days. Not that anyone is counting. Even when Gonzo is around, the right outside fullback positions is still an apparent weaknesses, and considering they don’t have much depth on the wings going forward, it would appear width could be an issue throughout the roster. I fully expect Todd Dunivant to continue his reign as an unspoken and underappreciated left back in this league.

The Midfield

Bruce Arena was quoted as saying that Landon Donovan will drop into the midfield and, conjecture on my behalf, probably take over the role of Hector Jimenez who has since been traded to Columbus. While this can provide some width, I suspect that he’ll almost be seen as a third forward at times as he does get up the pitch and like to cut into the box on runs. Despite being 32, he may still be the top-scoring midfielder in MLS. The club does still have Robbie Rogers, but unfortunately his return to MLS has been rather disappointing, and he’s been nowhere near the quality of Mike Magee, for whom he was traded last season.

The new international Baggio Husidić returns to MLS from the Swedish second division club Hammarby IF. A former cog in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Chicago Fire, and a former Generation Adidas midfielder, Husidić is the hope behind the two top central midfield pair in MLS. The blues aren’t just about the glitz and the flash, as additions over the last couple of years have displayed grit—a word notorious for its usage in American football, but appropriate here I think. Marcelo Sarvas and his team-mate/Brazilian countrymen Juninho efficiently rock ‘n roll in the midfield, and have become what some people refer to as the Galaxy engine room, forcing turnovers and providing quick and smart passes outlets to the wings and up the pitch to create quick opportunities. Adding the Bosnian-American Husidić to that depth is nothing but a good thing at this point for a club that has youth but not much veteran depth.

The Forwards

What did you say about veteran depth?!? Well, let’s talk Rob Friend! Friend, a Canadian international with 32 caps to his name, is coming to Hollywood fresh off his loan to 2. Bundesliga club 1860 München, where he put home five goals in 24 matches over the past season and change. It is currently unknown where Friend will fit in, though it will most likely be as a rotating element up front. With Donovan stationed on the left and Gyasi Zardes down the right, the Galaxy will look to Friend to help provide quality depth in the 18, and he may also see legitimate chances to start.

The unknown quantity here is Samuel, yes, ANOTHER undiscovered Brazilian talent found by the scouting staff down in South America. I would imagine that Samuel could be exactly the “right” partnership that Keane needs up top. Fast and versatile. Someone who can drop back into space as well as find the open pockets of space behind the defense that Robbie Keane creates.

And, oh yeah!, Robbie Keane returns for yet another season? Oh, what’s that? You can’t wait until the end of the year when his contract’s up? Well, tough luck. The runner up for 2013 MLS MVP  just signed a two-year extension that will essentially guarantee that he’ll still have a Galaxy crest on his chest when eating those senior citizen dinners at Denny’s before suiting up on to make your club look stupid.

As someone who loves his deep Irish lineage, I get a bit embarrassed at the thought of Robbie Keane being pretty much the most iconic player from my homeland. Still, I’m unabashedly proud at the incredible things that he does and how he backs up the intense ferocity on the pitch. His 0.64 goals per game since arriving in MLS two years ago is actually the highest goal scoring rate in the league over that period, just edging out Chris Wondolowski at 0.62 goals per game. Our Expected Goals 2.0 data also suggests that Keane scored more than twice as many goals as one would expect from an average player taking the same shots he took. That’s good for second in MLS among players with at least 50 shots.

Conclusions

While LA might have taken a slight step back at different points over the last few years, and while they quietly were put down against RSL in the playoffs last November, it’s safe to say that Bruce Arena has yet to lose his Midas Touch. The Galaxy are going to be a dominant force next year, one might actually consider LA a quiet contender for the MLS cup. With the flashiness of Seattle, the pop turn of Portland, as well as Kansas City’s defensive dominance and New York’s offensive juggernaut, L.A. might be playing from the shadows a bit more than usual this season. It would still be surprising for them to finish anywhere outside the top-3 in the Western Conference, and inconceivable for them not to make the playoffs. This is a year that should continue their Yankees-like reign over silverware, and the dominance they’ve displayed over their three decades of existence will be on full display.

Crowdsourcing Results

A plurality of ASA readers picked the Galaxy to finish second in the West this season (134 of 406 votes; 33%), and an overwhelming majority believe they will make the playoffs in some capacity (384 votes; 94.5%).

*Drew can teach you how to say “Superclub” at minute mark 15:58

Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

The 2013 New York Red Bulls won the Supporters’ Shield. Yes, they bowed out in the Eastern Conference semifinals…at home…again. And yes, that makes four consecutive seasons with a home playoff loss. And yes, the team’s home playoff record since 2006 is 0-5-2. But when you’ve gone 17 years without winning anything, having your team’s identity stripped away, burning through players, coaches and GMs like tinder, you tend to appreciate the small victories. The Red Bulls won the 2013 Supporters’ Shield, and in 25 years, that’s something that most people will remember.

2013 Finish: 17-9-8, 59 points; 58 GF, 41 GA; Won Supporters Shield. Lost in Conference Semifinals

2013 NYRB Formation - 2014-02-24

Transactions

Players In

Players Out

Name Pos Name Pos
Bobby Convey M Trade from Toronto Kevin Hartman GK Retired
Armando D Free transfer David Carney D Option declined
Richard Eckersley D Trade from Toronto Brandon Barklage D Option declined
Heath Pearce D Out of contract
Amando Moreno F Out of contract
Fabian Espindola F Option declined
Markus Holgersson D Contract terminated
Median age: 27 *Designated player

Median age: 27
*Designated player

Nothing to See Here
The New York Red Bulls’ off-season has been marked by an uncharacteristic amount of patience. Hundreds of players, fourteen coaches, nine ten general managers/sporting directors, three ownership groups, and two team names in 18 years have made chaos the status quo in North Jersey. For a team as historically turbulent as the Red Bulls (née Metrostars), it is downright bizarre to see them act so calmly.

Of course, it makes sense for the Red Bulls to stand pat. The Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield last season. They may not have played the prettiest soccer, but from a results-oriented perspective, you can’t do any better. Well, not during the regular season anyway. The league is improving, and the core of the Red Bulls is aging, but for now this side appears like it will remain a solid playoff team.

The New Guys

The Red Bulls signed only three new players this offseason: Bobby Convey and Richard Eckersley from Toronto FC in separate trades, and Armando, a central defender, who most recently plied his trade with Córdoba in the Spanish second division. The Red Bulls also selected two players in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft. With the 22nd overall pick, they took Wake Forest right back Chris Duvall, and with the 34th overall pick they selected Eric Stevenson, a central midfielder from powerhouse Akron.

No Keeper Controversy… Yet

Luis Robles started the 2013 season shakily; he had issues with both coming out for crosses too aggressively, and not aggressively enough. According to Opta, Robles finished last season with five errors, four of which resulted in goals for the opposition, tying him with Zac MacMath and Corey Ashe for the league lead. On the bright side, all five of his errors took place in the first half of the season, and by mid-summer, Robles had steadied his hands and decision-making enough that he would ultimately be considered one of the strengths of the Red Bull team. Entering 2014, Red Bulls fans feel confident that Luis Robles will become the first keeper to start more than 20 games in consecutive seasons since Jonny Walker in 2003 and 2004.

NYINFO

The Spanish Armando

The defense is the only part of the team that will be noticeably altered from last season. Markus Holgersson, who was second on the team in minutes last season, is the biggest loss for the Red Bulls. The big Swede led the team in tackles last season, and was also 7th among MLS defenders (and 25th overall) in pass completion. The Red Bulls are hopeful that Armando, who spent 3 seasons with Barcelona B, will be able to step into Holgersson’s spot in the lineup. Brandon Barklage, who started 20 games last season at right back, had his option declined as the team chose to go with Kosuke Kimura and the recently acquired Eckersley. Most importantly, Jamison Olave will be back to anchor the backline. Last year, the 32-year-old defender amassed the second-highest minutes total of his career, though he spent 115 of the team’s 180 playoff minutes off the pitch, earning a red card for a rash tackle on Omar Cummings in the first leg in Houston. Red Bulls fans should be willing to forgive him for his blunder, as after all, anyone can make a mistake in the playoffs.

The Scapegoat

Multiple mistakes in the playoffs are harder for fans to forgive. Defender Roy Miller began the 2013 season on the hot seat, due to his history of playoff blunders, both actual and perceived. Then, in the second game of the season, Roy Miller didn’t just (literally) handle the ball to give San Jose a late penalty kick, and he didn’t just encroach on the attempt, which was saved by Robles allowing the Earthquakes a retake, but he baffled everyone by admitting after the game that he intentionally encroached, trying to throw Wondolowski off. Of course, anyone who knows the Laws of the Game (and many who don’t) can tell you that this is a no-win situation: a saved attempt will result in a retake, while a goal will stand. Miller would eventually win back his place in the starting lineup, though an achilles injury in late August would cause him to miss the rest of the season, giving rise to the ill-fated David Carney era.

The Man of Steele

Last year, a lack of left-footed depth on the Red Bulls all but guaranteed a healthy Miller the left back position in the starting lineup. This year, the acquisition of Bobby Convey will ensure competition on the left side of the field, not just for Miller, but also Jonny Steele. In 2013, Steele started 33 games as the left midfielder for the Red Bulls, providing a seemingly endless stream of sprints up and down the flank. He was third among Red Bull midfielders in shots, behind Cahill, who played a decent amount at forward, and Juninho, whose shot numbers are boosted by (unsuccessful) dead ball attempts. But the one area where Steele falls short is the one in which Convey excels: passing. Last season, Convey had better per-90 numbers in all of the following: total passes, pass success rate, key passes, cross success rate, and long ball success rate, and that’s despite playing for Toronto!

Skill or Pace?

On the other side of the field, Coach Mike Petke will have to decide whether to start Eric Alexander or Lloyd Sam. Alexander, who picked up his second cap in January, prefers to cut inside and combine with McCarty/Henry or go to goal himself, showing no fear of taking on defenders one-on-one. He finished third on the team in successful dribbles, with 0.9 per game, and among Red Bull players with 10 or more dribbles, he finished with the highest dribble success rate, at 70%. Sam provides something that nobody else on the team sheet does: excellent speed. The first true winger the club has had since Dane Richards, Sam likes to stay wide, use his speed to evade defenders, and flight in crosses. Look at the difference in crosses between the two potential right mids: Alexander averaged 1.55 crosses per 90, while Sam averaged 4.75. Sam also had a better cross success rate, 30% to 12%. Additionally, Sam’s pace provides problems for opponents on the counterattack, as can be seen here and here (kudos also to Luis Robles for his quick and accurate distribution). With all of that said, expect Alexander to be the starter on opening day, as he provides much more structure during the defensive phase of play. Sam, after all, finished 2013 with the lowest tackles per 90 on the team, closer to Luis Robles than Eric Alexander.

DAX!

The man with the greatest number of tackles per 90? None other than Dax McCarty, who finished in the league’s top 20 in 2013 with 2.82 tackles per 90. McCarty has the thankless task of sitting deep in the midfield, breaking up opposing attacks, connecting the defense with the midfield, and not being named Kyle Beckerman. In 2012, McCarty completed the most passes in MLS with a mind-boggling 1,845 in 33 games. Last season, his numbers dropped ever-so-slightly, completing a still robust 1,373 of 1,616 passes in 30 matches. The most interesting component of McCarty’s passing is the fact that of his 1,616 passes, 809 were in the Red Bulls’ half of the field, and 807 were in the opposition’s half. Compare him to other defensive midfielders like Osvaldo Alonso (660/838), Diego Chara (611/994), or Brian Carroll (673/805), and even outside backs—Sean Franklin (456/837) or Lee Young-Pyo (535/804)—and it becomes evident how deep McCarty drops when New York is in possession of the ball.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

For the Red Bulls to remain effective, McCarty must remain withdrawn most of the time, in order to counterbalance Tim Cahill’s attacking forays. That’s not to say that Cahill is an “attacking midfielder” per se. Cahill is one of the most well-rounded and efficient players in Major League Soccer. But he most certainly does attack the opponent’s goal. Despite spending about three-quarters of his time in the midfield, Cahill was 2nd on the Red Bulls in shots, averaging 2.21 per 90 minutes, and those shots were extremely dangerous: 49 of the 55 were taken from within the penalty area, and of the 11 goals he scored, 10 came from zones 1 and 2.* Part of the reason that he is able to take so many shots from so close is due to his exceptional aerial ability. Cahill won 59.1% of his aerial duels last season, good for 4.41 duels won per game. This was evident not only in opponents’ penalty areas, where he headed home 8 goals last season, but in his own half of the field, where he accumulated 80 clearances, only 12 fewer than McCarty, Alexander, and Steele combined.

*According to our soon-to-be-published Expected Goals 2.0, Cahill scored 46 percent more goals than a league-average player would be expected to score from the shots he attempted, good for 14th of the 40 players that took at least 50 shots in 2013. Not only does he earn high-quality shots, but he finishes them at an above-average clip.

The Attacking Options

If Cahill starts in the midfield, Bradley Wright-Phillips is likely start next to Henry at forward. The other option is for Cahill to start at forward, with Peguy Luyindula playing the #10 role in the midfield. So will it be Bradley or Peguy? Luyindula chipped in 863 minutes over the course of last season, but could never maintain a foothold in the starting lineup with Fabian Espindola around. Wright-Phillips, signed in July to give the team depth at forward, played 337 minutes. Luyindula spent the first first half of the season at forward, maligned by fans for his inability to finish promising goal-scoring opportunities. Disregarding his penalty kick goal (which was earned for him by Lloyd Sam), Luyindula took 20 shots (14 inside the box) without scoring a goal. However, he found his form near the end of the season after Petke began deploying him as a more withdrawn #10-type player. His apotheosis came in the season-ending, Shield-clinching victory over Chicago, in which he registered 3 assists.

Phillips was neither as begrudged nor as celebrated as Luyindula, but he put in solid shifts at forward. Despite being listed at only 5’8”, and 155 pounds, the Englishman demonstrated an ability to effectively hold up the ball, a facet missing from the team for the majority of the season, with both Henry and Espindola preferring to run at players. This strength was complemented by an ability to win the ball in the air. Wright-Phillips finished 3rd on the Red Bulls in aerials won per 90. The last area where Wright-Phillips excels over Luyindula is his directness. While Luyindula prefers to drop between the lines and receive the ball, Wright-Phillips is more of a prototypical nose-for-goal striker, and this showed, with Wright-Phillips averaging twice as many shots-per-90 as Peguy.

O Captain!

Last but not least, the captain. Thierry Henry will be entering his fifth season for the New York Red Bulls, and despite the fact that he will turn 37 this August, he remains one of the most electrifying players in the league. Despite his speed gradually declining, and a nagging achilles injury that keeps him off of artificial surfaces, Henry’s offensive productivity is still essential to the Red Bulls success. Henry led the team last year—and remember, this team won the Supporters Shield and scored the most goals in the league—in both shots-per-90 and key passes-per-90. The only other players to lead their club in both categories were Federico Higuain, Diego Valeri, and Mike Magee. Henry also finished in the top ten in Major League Soccer in both categories.

Entering the final year of Henry’s contract, he has provided Red Bulls fans all they could have asked for when he arrived. He has provided the team with a must-watch player who, at the top of his game, can perform feats of breathtaking skill. But more than that, he has been passionate about the team: wearing a Metrostars-inspired captain’s armband, spurring on the fans, and exhorting teammates to perform at a higher level. And all this time Red Bull fans were simply hoping that he wouldn’t be caught taking mid-season vacations on the beach in St. Tropez.

Crowdsourcing Results:

When the Red Bulls line up against Vancouver on March 8, they will do so as Supporters’ Shield champions. They will also do so as the team that, yet again, flamed out of the playoffs too early. In the past four years, the Red Bull franchise has done an exemplary job of turning the public image of the club from anonymous losers to talented choke-artists. Baby steps. But the window for any collection of players to win a cup is finite, and with the potential of Thierry Henry departing the club after 2014, this season becomes especially important for a team in search of its first MLS Cup.

American Soccer Analysis readers project a second place in the Eastern Conference. 34.16% of voters believe that the Red Bulls will finish in 2nd place in the east, and 90.1% believe that they will make the playoffs.

Season Preview: Toronto FC

Toronto FC has been an enigma in their seven seasons in MLS. They have four Canadian Championships and a semifinals appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011, they had one of the strongest fan bases in their early years, and yet they have zero appearances in the MLS playoffs. But all signs point to an improved franchise as Tim Leiweke became President and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, and promptly claimed he would make blockbuster signings. With the additions of three Designated Players in the offseason, the Reds are making every effort to end their playoff drought in the coming 2014 season.

2013 Finish: 6-17-11, 29 points; 30 GF, 47 GA. Ninth in Eastern Conference and 17th overall.

2013 Best XI

Toronto FC's best XI in 2013

Transactions

  Name Pos From where?   Name Pos To where?
In: Jackson M traded from FC Dallas Out: Michael Thomas M option declined
Gilberto M transfer from SC Internacional Darel Russell M option declined
Justin Morrow D traded from San Jose Robert Earnshaw F option declined
Jordan Hamilton F Homegrown Justin Braun F out of contract
Dwayne De Rosario M Re-Entry Stage 2 Danny Koevermans F out of contract
Jermain Defoe F transfer from Tottenham Stefan Frei GK trade to Seattle
Michael Bradley M transfer from AS Roma Bobby Convey M trade to New York
Bradley Orr D loan from Blackburn Rovers Richard Eckersley D trade to New York
Julio Cesar GK loan from Queens Park Rangers Jonas Elmer D contract terminated
Matias Laba M traded to Vancouver

Roster Churn: Toronto FC returns 55.6% of its minutes played from 2013 (9th in the Eastern Conference and 17th overall).

2014 Preview

Median age: 24 *Designated player

Median age: 24
*Designated player

TORINFODo you remember back in high school when a rather ordinary girl that you barely noticed last year suddenly came back from the summer and was a complete knock out ? Well, Toronto FC is that knock out that MLS fans can’t get enough of. For starters, NBCSN will showcase TFC’s season opener against the Sounders on March 15. And even the infamous ginger (Alexi Lalas) has claimed on Twitter that he won’t even consider that the league has started until TFC has played. Amazing how all it takes is a few transfers and you’ve suddenly got Garber’s attention and deepest affections.

Toronto’s 2013 season was forgettable to say the least. They were completely inept on offense—tied for second-to-last in total goals with 30 and also second-to-last in our new Expected Goals For 2.0 at 33.3—and ended their season with a miserable 29 points. But things started to point in the right direction with their first two off-season acquisitions: the speedy winger Jackson from FC Dallas and a strong DP signing in Gilberto. What happened next, though, no one could have foreseen.

Toronto picked up local hero and all-time leading scorer (32 goals) Dwayne De Rosario, who played for the Reds between 2009 and 2011, as a light warmup to what would follow. Then, in early December, rumors began brewing that Toronto was ready to open the checkbook and make a record signing for Tottenham striker and England international, Jermain Defoe. As that story was growing in credibility, in January Taylor Twellman unveiled a shocker that Toronto was also in the race to get USMNT star and Roma midfielder, Michael Bradley. Within days, Toronto FC had both players. It was like Joe Walsh joined the Eagles all over again—except the Eagles were already good and not in Canada, but whatever.

Many of us, myself included, scoffed at the idea that Bradley would return to MLS after claiming time and time again his desire to challenge himself at the highest levels of international soccer. But the lure of a new and distinct challenge, as well as a hefty pay raise (reports state Bradley received a pay raise of six times his salary from Roma), has Michael Bradley back in MLS. As a cherry on top, Toronto plucked Brazilian international Julio Cesar from Queens Park Rangers on loan—probably more a name than a top-level talent at this point—to finalize their off-season transformation from a basement dweller to a potential MLS Cup contender.

But basic math does not appear to a strong suit of the forever changing front office. Toronto already had one DP in Matias Laba, and three more made four total. Toronto had been trying for nearly two months to put Laba on loan, but Laba reportedly wanted to stay in MLS. Intra-MLS loans are a new thingthis year marked the first one in fact—but are indeed possible. However, the loan idea fell through, and as rosters were about to finalize on Friday, Toronto was forced to trade Laba to Vancouver for “future considerations.” Though often ambiguous, future considerations in this case may very well involved them getting Laba back in 2015. But still, the perception of disarray in the Toronto front office (and back office, as Drew noted on our most recent podcast), was done no favors.

With all off-season transactions covered, Toronto now has to back up their talent-rich roster with results. Winning more often than it loses and making the playoffs would be a good start, though it’s a long way to go from the Reds’ status quo to MLS Cup contender. Only in 2009 were they remotely close to the playoffs, finishing 10-11-9 and three points out of a playoff spot in the East. Toronto has won no more than six matches in each of the past three seasons. There will be immense pressure with all the high-profile signings for the Reds to qualify for the playoffs, and qualify comfortably. But can Jermain Defoe adjust to a new league? Is Gilberto as good a finisher as advertised? And most importantly, can Michael Bradley be the key piece in the middle to lead the team?

Alex Olshansky (@tempofreesoccer) did an incredible write up on Michael Bradley, comparing his passing usage rating for the USMNT and his club teams. To summarize it quickly, Bradley is more involved in USMNT’s attack and possession than he is with his club teams. And while many have criticized Bradley’s move back to MLS, the new environment and his role with the team will likely be a greater challenge to him as a player. Bradley will now play the role of facilitator and key distributor, as well as meeting daily expectations to be the team leader for TFC, better preparing him for his role on the national team.

Soccer, as well as other sports, has shown us that adding a few great players does not guarantee success, especially on a pitch shared by eleven teammates. There is no doubt that Toronto is a better team, but an MLS Cup contender? We shall see. Regardless of where your allegiances resided in the past—as a Toronto fan, an American Outlaw, or other—things got interesting north of the border in the past few months, and everyone will have at least one eye on the Reds in 2014

Crowdsourcing Results

A plurality of ASA readers picked Toronto to finish third in the East this season (130 of 404 votes; 32.2%), and an overwhelming majority believes the Reds will make the playoffs in some capacity (355 votes; 80.7%).

Season Preview: Seattle Sounders

The Sounders history comes at you as if you had just yelled “come at me, bro!” and meant it. The Sounders didn’t just come out of the gate in 2009, they came out of the gate like they had just stolen a car, killed a hooker in GTA, and they weren’t interested in stopping until they got those five stars and summoned multiple helicopters. The funny thing is that with all this “success,” they’ve never won a single piece of MLS-specific hardware. Yes, they’ve earned 3 U.S. Open Cup trophies and fell just short on penalties to Sporting KC for a fourth, and the club has tallied the 2nd-most total points in MLS since its inception (266 total points, 53 points per season). But the Sounders have inevitably faltered when the time has come to step up and win the trophy. Adrian Hanauer and Co. are set on changing that in 2014.

2013 Finish: 15-12-7, 52 points; 42 GF, 42 GA. Fourth place in Western Conference. Lost in MLS Cup Conference Semi-Finals.

SoundersXI

Transactions

Players In Players Out
GK Stefan Frei Trade (Toronto) GK Michael Gspurning Option Declined
F Tristan Bowen Trade (Chivas) D Marc Burch Option Declined
D Chad Marshall Trade (Chivas) M Blair Gavin Option Declined
F Kenny Cooper Trade (Dallas) F Steve Zakuani Option Declined
F Corey Hertzog Re-Entry Stage 2 M Mauro Rosales Trade (Chivas)
M Aaron Kovar Home Grown Player M Adam Moffatt Trade (Dallas)
F Sean Okoli Home Grown Player F Eddie Johnson Trade (DC United)
F Chad Barrett Re-Entry Stage 2 D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado Trade (Chicago)
D Jalil Anibaba Trade (Chicago) D Patrick Ianni Trade (Chicago)
M Marco Pappa Allocation F Fredy Montero Transfer (Sporting CP)
F Will Bates Waived
D Jimmy Ockford Loaned (NY Cosmos)
F Eriq Zavaleta Loaned (Chivas)
M Alex Caskey Traded (DC United)

Roster churn: Seattle returns 58.9% of its minutes played from 2013 (15th most in MLS and 7th most in the Western Conference)

2014 Preview

SEA-ROSNow, after an extremely disappointing finish in 2013 to not just the season but the playoffs, SEAINFOthe Sounders have rebuilt their squad with dynamic talent that specifically caters to their team chemistry—and, side note, they may be just as dynamic off the pitch as on it. Seattle invested in the team’s spine by finding new keeper Stefan Frei to fill the boots of the departed Michael Gspurning, acquired Chad Marshall from Columbus,  signed critical midfielder Ozzie ‘Honey Badger’ Alonso to a designated player contract, and then traded Adam Moffat for Kenny Cooper. Cooper looks to be inserted in the spare striker role and work with Obafemi Martins in lieu of the wayward Eddie Johnson.

The team has a pretty solid line-up and even includes some interesting youth beyond just that of DeAndre Yedlin. Tristan Bowen, the original home grown player (HGP), joins the attacking front line and should get some looks up top this season. Along with him, the club will be expecting big things from central midfielder Andy Rose. Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar, who could contribute to the season in their own ways, lead the second coming of Sounders HGP.

Overall, the club wasn’t bad in 2013. However, “not bad” wasn’t on the list of ideal outcomes at the beginning of the season. Seattle limped out of the gate in 2013, and without key pieces in the lineup, the Sounders found that they weren’t generating as many opportunities as their opponents, and the poor results followed suit. It came as little surprised that, without big-money players in the lineup, and with no CCL money available or that four-year bubble money for new teams, the Sounders were just too thin to deal with the weekly roster trimming.

Both of those financial sources that we went dry were also helping to soak up the payroll strains of having Steve Zakuani on the roster. It’s not his fault that problems have continued to occur following that horrible incident, but it left the Rave Green with an extremely tough decision to make this off-season. A decision that forced the club to decline to tender a contract to Zakuani, which ended in the delight of many Portland supporters–as the Timbers swooped in and signed him–and the sobs of Emerald City Supporters.

Before today, we knew the Sounders would be playing a lot of new players this season, and the roster churn continued today with the move of Alex Caskey to DC United. This will be one of the “newest” teams in MLS in some ways, especially when you consider that Clint Dempsey only played nine games for the Sounders last season. The squad is nearing completion with the likelihood that they’ll add a trialist to an important rotation spot. Now that we pretty much know who’s on the squad, the question is how consistent they will be.

As mentioned, Seattle’s numbers from 2013 all look very much mediocre. Those are, of course, averages from an entire season, and this only serves as another reminder that the mountain peaks were high and the valleys were equally low last season. Games against FC Dallas, San Jose and even Real Salt Lake at home were decisive victories by a team that ruled its opponents both on the scoreboard and by the numbers. Then they saw embarrassing losses on the road against those same Real Salt Lake and Dallas teams, as well as against Colorado. Not to mention that Vancouver pretty much won the Cascadia Cup by a landslide at Century Link field in a game that piled on to the fact that the club had gone from Supporters’ Shield favorite to being on the cusp of falling out of the playoffs. The club isn’t as bad as the ratio numbers display—as suggested by our soon-to-be-published xGD 2.0—but it wasn’t the type of season that they want to pin up on Mom’s fridge.

Going forward, with all the pressure the supporters have on Sigi Schmid, this is a season where he may need to find the minimum of an MLS Cup Final appearance to save his job. With an improved back line and a full season of both Martins and Clint Dempsey, along with the addition of a creative player like Marco Pappa coming out of the midfield, the club has all the pieces at their disposal to get to the playoffs rather comfortably. And once they get there, it’s all going to be all about the current health of the squad. The injury bug has not been favorable for the Sounders in the past, but that said, their depth has also improved. The patience has worn thin on the Schmid coaching regime. It’s time for some real hardware.

Crowdsourcing Results

American Soccer Analysis readers seem to think that the Sounders will continue to have success in 2014 . They have projected Seattle to finish 3rd in the Western Conference this season, with 28.1% of voters placing them there, and 63.3% of voters placing them somewhere in the top three. There are only a few doubters, with a very small 6.4% of voters placing them in spots six through nine, out of the playoffs.